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No home is perfect. Whether it’s an ugly kitchen, a drab bathroom or a living room that looks like a funeral parlor, adding your personal touch to every room of the house is an exciting and fun process. But while some projects only require a new coat of paint or a shiny new faucet, renovations and overhauls are a completely different story, and come with a unique set of challenges. One that doesn’t often get much attention but can pose a huge threat to your health and those around you is asbestos.

You don’t hear a lot about asbestos today because its use has dwindled over the past few decades due to its link to asbestosis and mesothelioma, diseases directly connected to exposure to asbestos fibers. As a result, the government has established several federal regulations through the Toxic Substances Control Act capping the amount of asbestos allowed in newly-manufactured products, banning its use in other applications (like sprays) and the introduction of safer (and cheaper) alternatives. Although asbestos is no longer used in new home construction, older houses built before the mid-1970s are still very likely to contain the mineral and could potentially pose a threat. Knowing where asbestos was used and how to avoid exposure to it could potentially save you from not only accidentally ingesting or inhaling the fibers, but from potentially developing an entirely preventable disease later on.

Years ago, you didn’t have to look too far to find areas where asbestos-containing materials were used during the construction process. Prior to federal regulations handed down in the mid-1970s, siding, cements, mortars, sealers, and popcorn ceilings all contained asbestos, along with other household items people often came into contact with, like ironing board covers, attic insulation and hair dryers. If something in your home was going to be subjected to long periods of high heat, then there was a chance asbestos was included. Today, federal regulations explicitly state that manufactured products cannot contain more than one percent of the toxic carcinogen.

Homes suspected of containing asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) should be looked at by a trained and licensed professional who can determine what actions you’ll need to take before any renovation work is done. In most cases, if the asbestos isn’t crumbly, broken or otherwise damaged and won’t be impacted during renovations, it’s generally considered safe. However, if there’s crumbling spots and pieces falling off, an abatement specialist will have to be called in to determine if the materials can be sealed (also known as encapsulated) or taken out entirely. It’s an expensive process, but by having the materials removed it will no longer pose a danger to people living in the home.

In addition to being a serious threat to health, asbestos could also heavily impact how people perceive your home and how much it might actually be worth when attempting to sell. According to a study recently published in the journal Applied Economics Letters, homes sold within one coastal Alabama region that contained asbestos were more likely to be sold for a lower price. The study suggested that the presence of ACMs lowered the selling price of the home by more than 13 percent, costing homeowners approximately $25,000 in depreciated home value.

With that said, don’t try to remove asbestos on your own. Abatement professionals take every precaution to make sure the asbestos is contained and ensure no one is placed in harm’s way. Without proper training, knowledge and the right equipment for the job, a DIYer with no experience could potentially expose themselves and everyone around them to asbestos. This inherently puts them at risk of developing a disease like mesothelioma or asbestosis down the line.
Renovations are supposed to be an opportunity to make something old feel new again. While a lot of work goes into these types of renovations, every precaution should be taken to make sure the work is being done safely and with the future in mind. And although we can certainly learn a lot about performing DIY work by watching a few YouTube videos, asbestos is nothing to mess around with and could pose serious health concerns if handled improperly. Do the right thing and have a qualified professional come in, assess the situation and determine what the appropriate course of action is going to be. You’ll be happier with the results, safer and your wallet might even thank you!